If you have a stream or moist area on your property that you want to landscape with a natural look, try a pawpaw tree. Pawpaw is ideal for spots where the tree can be left on its own.
This 15- to 20-foot multistemmed understory tree typically occurs in deep, fertile, river-bottom land. The leaves are the food source for the zebra swallowtail butterfly. In late summer the three- to six inch-long, fragrant, oblong fruits are attractive to folks who enjoy growing their own fruit at home.
Admittedly, pawpaws are an acquired taste. Beneath the skin is a creamy pulp that ranges from white to yellow and orange and can be scooped out with a spoon. The fruits have two rows of large, shiny, dark, beanlike seeds, but these can easily be removed or spit out. The flavor is rich and tropical, similar to banana-strawberry custard.
The best-tasting fruits are produced by named varieties that have been grafted onto seedling rootstock, such as PA Golden, Wabash, Shenandoah, Potomac, and Sunflower. Because pawpaws must be cross-pollinated to set fruit, it’s important that you plant two unrelated selections.
Even without fruit, the long dark green tropical-looking leaves of pawpaw can be enjoyed during the growing season and as they turn from yellow to brown in the fall.